Focus on Leadership - December 2010
Interview by Kemp Harr
Before starting RD Weis, his highly successful commercial floorcovering contractor company, Randy Weis spent the first half of his career in the corporate world. For ten years, he focused on transportation and business logistics with Bristol Myers Squibb. He then moved up the ranks and held several leadership positions in the company’s Clairol division and then plastics manufacturing, real estate and human resources—spending a total of 19 years with the company.
In 1990, Weis succumbed to the entrepreneurial itch and started his own company, which is based in Port Chester, New York and has now grown to six locations in the Northeast. Weis also serves as chairman of the board for Starnet Worldwide, the largest cooperative of commercial flooring contractors in the U.S. Weis attributes much of his success to the talented employees that he has on his team.
Q. As the commercial market starts to recover in the Northeast, where are you seeing most of the business?
A. We’re finding most of the business is on the replacement/remodel side. Most new construction projects are still on hold. For the first time now in two years, we’re seeing a greater optimism with our clients. As a result we are seeing year-end discretionary spending similar to what we saw prior to this recession. For the last two years, there has been a trickle of business in the healthcare, education and government sectors—due in part to stimulus funding—but now finally we are seeing business warm up in the corporate office sector.
Many of the major companies know that the way their corporate facilities look is a direct reflection on their brand, so they have to keep their facilities up to date.
Q. Are the facility managers and end users still hiring design firms to specify and coordinate these projects?
A. Yes. Up the Northeast, these companies put a lot of emphasis on their image. Plus, facility managers are overworked and they need the resources a design firm brings to the equation.
Q. Do you think this “Great Recession” will leave a lasting mark on how commercial flooring is sold and installed or on what products are used?
A. Contrary to what you may think, we are seeing a renewed focus on better grade products that have a longer life—more so than in any period in the last ten years. Some of this can be attributed to the influence of third party entities like Green Building’s LEED and Antron’s message. Carpet tile continues to take share from broadloom, and retailers who want a “wood look” have grasped luxury vinyl tile as the best way to get there—because it holds up to the traffic.
Q. RD Weis is in the product and installation business but you’re also in flooring maintenance. Tell me a little more about that end of your business.
A. We continue to value the maintenance business as an annuitized business, which insulates us from a dependency on the cycle of construction. But it also allows us to bring new products to bear in the market. In the last five years, urethane coatings have come into the market to replace stripping and waxing, and through our maintenance business we are able to offer our clients that flooring enhancement.
Q. You have a small staff of business development people who go out and call on design firms. What benefit do you get from that?
A. It gives us an extra edge in the process. We gain visibility of projects in the early stages and we are able to help the design firm see potential issues in the planning stages of a project. In the end, we think it helps us win more jobs when projects go to bid. With many of the smaller design firms, they are able to use our library as an extension of their own, giving them a view of a wider range of products.
Q. A few weeks ago, Starnet held its fall meeting in Vancouver, B.C. What are the key issues that the Starnet members are facing today?
A. Access to credit is probably the biggest issue. Most of the members were successful in right-sizing their business during the downturn, but now that business is picking up, ramping back up requires capital. Fortunately, our vendor partners are working with us in certain areas, which is helpful. Balancing overhead to match the current level of business is always a challenge.
Margins are also a big issue. Many parts of the country are still seeing fewer projects and an increased number of bidders and that is almost always a recipe for reduced margins. We’re also having to spend time qualifying our customers. A few years ago, it was the other way around—they wanted to make sure we were solvent. We actually had a session at our meeting to help our members scrutinize the client’s ability to pay.
Q. What is the tone of the membership at your meeting?
A. Our members know that we’ve bottomed out and are on the positive side of the curve. They are optimistic and confident about the prospect for future growth.
Q. What are your plans for 2011 as a group?
A. We are working on ways to increase our marketshare with our preferred vendors.
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